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Who Made the Leap in 2013?

All season, our weekly Making the Leap highlighted inexperienced players emerging as impact players and established starters breaking out as true difference-makers.

Now that the regular season has come to a close, let's look back on the stars of this year's Making the Leap series.

  1. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns wide receiver: Despite missing two games, Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards by nearly 150. Catching passes from three different quarterbacks, Gordon finished just 5 yards per game shy of Calvin Johnson's 122.8 from last season. It was the best season by a Browns skill-position player since the backfield glory days of Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly in the 1960s.
  1. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears wide receiver: Jeffery has been one of Around The League's favorites since Gregg Rosenthal wondered in October if the breakout star might be every bit as good as Brandon Marshall. His 249-yard effort against the Vikings was one of the most astonishing games I've ever seen by a wide receiver. Jeffery's 1,526 yards from scrimmage were second only to Gordon among receivers.
  1. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints defensive end: Rob Ryan turned the 2012 Saints' historically bad defense around by relying heavily on Jordan, edge rusher Junior Galette and do-everything rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro. Already established as a stout run defender, Jordan evolved into one of the most disruptive pass-rushing defensive linemen in the league. He led all 3-4 defensive ends in sacks and hurries while earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
  1. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers defensive end: The "Kraken" came up 35 sacks shy of his goal this season. His seven quarterback takedowns over the final two games suggests he has the potential to terrorize offensive tackles to the tune of 20-plus sacks in future seasons. Hardy's highlight reel calls to mind NFL Films narrator John Facenda's famous description of a Chicago Bears Hall of Famer: "Doug Atkins was like a storm rolling over a Kansas farm house. He came from all directions. And all there was to do was to tie down what you could and hope he didn't take the roof."
  1. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback: So what if his numbers are inflated by Chip Kelly's offensive scheme? He set the NFL record for best touchdown-to-interception ratio (27:2) while besting Peyton Manning's historical season in passer rating (119.2). More importantly, he saved the Eagles' season and led them to the division crown by winning six out of the final seven games. More accurate and better at going through his progressions than Michael Vick, the 2012 third-round draft pick is now Kelly's quarterback for the next 10 centuries.
  1. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle: A mainstay on this list all season, Casey was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs. He was one of just two interior defenders to reach double digits in sacks. Far from a one-dimensional pass rusher, Casey consistently got backfield penetration to stop runners for a loss. He was the best player in Nashville this year.
  1. Damon Harrison, New York Jets defensive tackle: "Big Snacks" anchored the Jets' "Sons of Anarchy" defensive line as an immovable run plugger. Rex Ryan's defense allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season -- in large part because the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Harrison was a wall in the middle.
  1. Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker: Mike Zimmer's defense didn't suffer a drop-off after losing two of its best players in Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. Credit goes to Burfict, who emerged as a defensive leader while leading the NFL in tackles. Already regarded as a run plugger and hard hitter, Burfict showed noticeable improvement in his coverage skills and was one of the best all-around linebackers in football this season.
  1. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns tight end: If not for the Browns' musical chairs at quarterback, Cameron would have joined Jimmy Graham as the only tight ends with 1,000 receiving yards this season. Even with Jason Campbell largely ignoring him down the stretch, Cameron still finished second at the position. A young Tony Gonzalez in the passing game, Cameron is an exceptionally fluid athlete with the size and leaping ability to make him an ideal red-zone target.
  1. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos tight end: Speaking of red-zone weapons, Thomas was one of a record-setting five Broncos skill-position players to record double-digit touchdowns. Like Cameron, Thomas is a former college hoopster with the requisite size and athleticism to ensure that no linebacker or safety can contain him. Adding Thomas and Wes Welker as pick-your-poison options raised Peyton Manning's aerial attack from one of the league's most dangerous to one of history's most prolific.

Honorable Mention

Rookie Division

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped all of Week 17's wild action.

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